We Share a Bed—Why Not a Credit Card?: Ask Harry and Louise

Our husband-and-wife team advises a woman considering getting a joint credit card with her boyfriend.

By: Harry Jaffe, Louise Jaffe

Dear Harry and Louise:

My boyfriend and I have been together for a little less than a year, and everything is going extremely well. A facet of our relationship is going out often, for dinner, drinks, etc. I don’t expect my boyfriend to pick up every check for the both of us. He’s happy to treat me to things here and there, but I don’t feel comfortable having the male pay for majority of things—not to mention he doesn’t have the finances to do so at this point in his career (DC is an expensive place, after all). We take turns paying for things, but that just seems to be a silly game of credit card shuffle. We had this idea to open a new credit card in one of our names and add the other as an authorized user to that account. The plan is that we will use this credit card to pay for our meals, drinks, and activities, and then split the bill evenly at the end of each billing cycle. We can both track what is spent and ensure the other is not using it on outside things. We both have 100 percent trust that the other would not rack up the bill, and it’s something we can get ourselves out of if things go sour in the relationship (although I don’t anticipate that happening). This seems to be the easiest solution, short of joining our bank accounts (which, trust me, it’s too soon to do!) Is this crazy of us to do?

Maxed Out in DC

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Bad idea.

You know, of course, that money troubles are a prime reason couples break up. Which partner earns more? Who handles the finances? Who pays for which expenses? Why do women spend so much dough on shoes? (Sorry, had to slip that in.)

You’re right to mention trust, as that’s the basis of a strong relationship, and trust can break down over money. It’s a good thing you believe you can trust each other to not rack up big bills. But to trust I would add temptation, which goes along with having a credit card. Why add the temptation to pile up debt at this point in your relationship?

I can see why you would consider a shared credit card as a baby step toward merging your finances. But why merge more than you must? Here’s how Louise and I navigate these financial currents: We have separate bank accounts. Yes, we share expenses, but we don’t share checkbooks.

Then there’s: “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You are sashaying around town quite well with dual, separate credit cards. Keep having fun, grow together, and save money hassles for later on. They will come.

• • •

LOUISE SAYS:

I will give you my kidney. I will have your child. I will sip from the same cup with a complete stranger in Starbucks. But I will never share an account or a credit card with anyone. Let me be clear: No one has ever wanted to share one with me, so I decided long ago to adopt this adamant perspective as part of a defense mechanism, much like the girl who is never asked to prom begins to pontificate about the inherent banality of school dances.

What you spend and how you pay for it is your business. If you begin to face some payment difficulties (or your boyfriend does), then this is your problem to solve. There is absolutely no reason to join your finances as a matter of convenience. It can only lead to one thing: more discussions about finances. Don’t be that mind-numbingly boring couple unless you have to be. You know these couples. They’re the ones who spend more time dividing up the bill than they do enjoying their meal.

So keep playing the wonderful game of credit card shuffle. State very clearly that you will not allow him to pay for everything. You say he doesn’t have the finances to cover your lifestyle together; does this mean you do?

A friend of mine has solved the issue this way: She makes more money than her beau and loves to go out. She will ask him to go to a particular restaurant with the understanding that she is covering the bill. He then asks her out for pizza and beers the following Friday. She pays for the Kennedy Center play tickets, and he’s very happy to cover the movie. They never split a bill. They never see each other’s credit card statements, and they never waste an evening discussing finances rather than the affected yet effective performance of Keira Knightly in her latest theatrical turn.

Stay interesting; keep your accounts separate.

• • •

HARRY SAYS:

Friend’s name, please? I would take that deal.

 

LOUISE SAYS:

You should be so lucky. Leave me alone while I try on another pair of shoes, you stereotyper.